Ashley Bell bends over backwards for ‘The Last Exorcism Part II’
Photo: CBS Studios
Actually, that second part isn't exactly true -- there's no actual demonic possession going on with the Santa Monica-born actress, who reprises her role as poor Nell Sweetzer in the horror sequel. Just a lot of really, really intense physical and psychological training, which began during preparation for the original 2010 film, "The Last Exorcism," a redemption fable in which Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a P.T. Barnum-like preacher man and charlatan exorcist, must step up and actually become the man he's been claiming he is when he comes across a woman who's chock full of bad spirits -- like, for real.
"It was great to be able to get the opportunity to do my own stunts and everything," said Bell in a recent interview with Yahoo! Movies. "Early in my research, I read that the people that get possessed by the Devil, their body turns into a battleground. And I thought to myself, 'What would that look like?' So, as I was preparing, I thought, 'Well, I'm just going to prepare for everything. I don't know what they’re going to ask me to do on set.'"
Director Daniel Stamm and his creative team, including producer Eli Roth, asked Bell to do quite a lot on set, including to twist and contort her body into seemingly impossible shapes, scurry up walls, press against the corner of the ceiling -- all kinds of extreme physical acts designed to bring a sense of intense authenticity to the found-footage horror film.
"I stumbled, in my research, on a book called 'The Art of Hysteria.' It depicts doctors' images of women going through hysterical fits when they were trying to figure out what hysteria was. These were real photographs, and yet their bodies could not be more contorted from their backs down to the tips of their fingers. And these are real. It was very important, Daniel and Eli had both said, that since this was shot documentary style, we must make this as real as possible. So I looked at this book on hysteria, and I also looked up epileptic fits, manias, seizures and any kind of odd or repetitive motions."
Bell was also asked for her own creative input and was given the chance to try any other moves she could manage, which often resulted in some last-minute script adjustments ... and some nifty marketing images.
"I was working on that backbend and several other physical things, and the night before the big exorcism scene, Daniel Stamm had said, 'Do you have anything you want to try?' and I said, 'Well, I can do this,' and I did that backbend in the hotel lobby, and he said, 'Okay, you just stay there. I'm going to rewrite this thing.' And I had no idea that it would become the poster and such a huge part of the film and everything. It was a tremendously open experience to be able to contribute that and have it make such an impact."
Indeed, "The Last Exorcism" made quite the impact, with Bell earning an MTV Movie Awards nomination for Best Scared-As-S**t Performance and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film also inspired all sorts of rather extreme reactions from horror audiences.